Have you been feeling unsettled, confused, and discombobulated lately? If so, you’re certainly not alone. There’s so much weirdness going on in the world these days: missiles in North Korea…madness in Syria…passengers being dragged off planes by United Airlines…the on-going antics of the “Commander-in-Cheeto”…hell, even Twin Peaks is coming back, because apparently the world just isn’t weird enough these days. It’s all a ball of confusion for sure.
The Pittsburgh Penguins: The only sure thing skating around with the Puck of Confusion?
You don’t even get to escape the confusion if you flatten out that ball into a disc-shaped piece of hard, vulcanized rubber and turn your attention to the Stanley Cup playoffs–because that hasn’t exactly been a model of things going according to plan, either.
We’ve reached the NHL’s Conference Finals now, and so far your humble correspondent has not written more than a few words about hockey’s postseason. Mostly, this has happened because every time I’ve thought I’ve had an ‘angle’ for a piece about the playoffs, the Puck of Confusion dropped once more and changed the narrative.
This trend has been going on for a while now. At various points during the regular season, either the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, or Chicago Blackhawks looked like the best team in the league. Among that crowd, only the Sens continue to show a pulse as of this writing.
“And if Ottawa actually pulled it off and brought the Cup back to Canada at last? Too cool. In a world of unlikely, that would be some very likeable ‘unlikely.'”
Going into the playoffs, having seen most of the above teams rise and then fall, a sane observer could only have picked the Capitals and Blackhawks to meet in the Final.
The Caps had been on a slow but steady build throughout the season–not the flashy, “let’s set some records” kind of season they had last time around, but more of a measured, quietly competent build. And they just kept coming, until Washington wound up with the President’s Trophy for the second straight season.
One must digress, at this point, to wonder: how many copies of the President’s Trophy–that most worthless of all sports league awards–have wound up in the crusher at the local wrecker’s yard? You have to question the sanity of any club’s management that actually values the thing enough to put it on display at their rink.
The Blackhawks have won their share of President’s Trophies; they didn’t need that bauble to recommend them coming into the playoffs. They were undoubtedly the hottest team in the league when the first round started. They had the look of a train steamrolling its way down the track, with little or nothing set to stop them.
Blackhawks runaway train, meet section of busted track…somewhere in the vicinity of the musical land of Tennessee. The Predators–about whom more later–derailed Chicago’s express while hardly breaking a sweat.
The Leafs held to form by losing to the top-seeded Caps, but only barely; they look like an eastern version of the Oilers, who are another young team on the rise. Edmonton had a relatively easy time dispatching the Sharks–thanks, guys, for making my prediction of a repeat Final look stupid; glad you were so satisfied with your appearance in last year’s Final–before the Oilers finally bit the dust Wednesday night to the solid if uninspiring Anaheim Ducks.
I guess you could call Anaheim advancing to the Western Conference Final a bit of normality. They were, after all, the Pacific Division winners, if only by virtue of a late season surge. Whether or not the Ducks–or five days’ worth of rust–will stop the now-hard-charging Predators remains an open question. Nashville has been a growing concern for a few seasons now; it will hardly seem shocking if they manage to dust the Ducks. It certainly won’t be as shocking as their first round sweep of the Blackhawks. The Preds have proved something at this point; only a fool would deny that now.
Things seem a little clearer in the Eastern Conference Final. Despite being pushed–and occasionally pummeled–by the Capitals, the Penguins have to be the favorites in their matchup against Ottawa. Indeed, perhaps the only thing we’ve seen that has made sense–and truly followed form–in the last few months has been the eternal reality of Pittsburgh sticking the knife in the Capitals in the playoffs. That’s a movie franchise that will seemingly never end, nor change its storyline, however many editions we watch.
So the Penguins look to have a relatively clear path to a second championship. We haven’t seen a repeat Stanley Cup champion in a long while now; it feels like we’re due for one.
Then again, we’re long overdue for a team from Canada to hoist the Cup once more. And the Senators are the only qualified candidates left for that result.
Is the Sens winning unlikely? Sure. They finished six wins behind the Pens, and will go into their series as prohibitive underdogs. Is it impossible? Hell no. Like we said before, weird things have been happening lately. (See: Trump, Donald; “Commander-in-Cheeto”)
I predicted the Pens would get back to the Final–and the other team in that prediction foundered–so I suppose that automatically means they are my selection as the favorite for the Cup. But…it would be cool if the Preds rose all the way up and won the whole thing, after all these years of grinding their way up the ladder.
And if Ottawa actually pulled it off and brought the Cup back to Canada at last? Too cool. In a world of unlikely, that would be some very likeable ‘unlikely.’
Oh, yeah, and a Stanley Cup Final between Nashville and Ottawa would be Gary Bettman’s worst nightmare. So there’s that.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s been a bumpy ride so far, and if we try to move forward too fast we might get disoriented and dizzy. Let’s just sit down with a tasty snack, a cold beverage, and enjoy the Conference Finals–one game at a time, just like the players themselves do it–and give thanks that, in a world of weird, hockey’s weirdness is not only harmless, but it’s actually something pretty great.